Home Subway Movies The Remaking of ‘Pelham One Two Three’

The Remaking of ‘Pelham One Two Three’

by Benjamin Kabak


No movie captures the essence of the New York City subway better than the 1974 flick The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The film stars Walter Malthau as the transit cop who must deal with Robert Shaw’s hijacking of a 6 train. The demands: One million dollars within an hour or the passengers get killed.

Joseph Sargent’s film, adobted by Peter Stone from a John Godey book, is a work of New York City history. It’s gritty and campy. It taps into the fears during the 1970s that the subways weren’t safe and that New Yorkers just didn’t really care. And in a great piece of political satire, the movie features a bumbling mayor trying to run away from the city’s problems. In a word (or three): Watch this movie (but not that dreadful remake from the late 1990s).

This movie is such a cult film among transit buffs that it has recently spurred this insanely long discussion on Subchat. Obviously, August of 2007 didn’t mark the debut of this film as a topic on the subway-centric message board. The threads have been too numerous to count, but this 2003 thread entitled the “Ultimate Guide to Pelham 1-2-3” is a classic.

Now, Hollywood’s at it again. Director Tony Scott is going to remake The Taking of Pelham One Two Three with Academy Award winner Denzel Washington starring as Zachary “Z” Garber, the role originally played by Walter Mathau. No word yet on who will play the terrorists, but I would guess we’ll see some familiar Hollywood-style terrorists threatening the city with a hijacked subway.

As you can see from this extensive thread on Subchat, feelings are running strong on this one. The original Pelham 1-2-3 drew some heat for taking some liberties with the way it presented the subway, and some contributors to the message board are urging Tony Scott to bring on some railfans as technical advisors. That’s sound advice; Scott shouldn’t distract New Yorkers, the film’s biggest target audience, with subway detail inaccuracies.

Meanwhile, I’m a little skeptical of this remake. What makes the original work is it’s place in time. It is, as I said, the quintessential view of 1970s New York City.

What would a 2000s New York City look like in a new version of Pelham 1-2-3? Would the automated voices apologize for the “unavoidable delay”? Would straphangers too zoned out on their iPods even blink? Would the hijackers be able to get inside and hijack an overcrowded train car on the East Side IRT these days anyway? Will the hijackers be your stereotypical set of Middle Eastern hijackers or would Tony Scott and his scribe David Koepp dare to be a little creative with their casting?

For those of us who live and breath the subways — or at least try to breath inside the subways — Mr. Scott will have to prove his subway mettle. We can only wait and wonder if he’s up to this monumental task.

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brooklyn gal September 26, 2007 - 2:15 pm

I’ll have to check out the old movie, I’ve never seen it. Whether or not you agree with a remake (I usually never do), it is an interesting idea to think about how things like iPod will fit in, as well as the difference in attitude between the 1970s and now. Does the train move while it’s hijacked? If so, the pending cellphone service could make for interesting plotlines as they get close to stations.

Benjamin Kabak September 26, 2007 - 3:34 pm

The train does indeed move while hijacked. Without giving away too much of the movie, the train moving through the tunnel is fairly important (even if the tunnel scenes are slightly error-plagued).

Roosevelt Island 360 (Eric) September 26, 2007 - 6:09 pm

My alltime favorite NYC movie. I love the poster you added to this post. I have remembered that poster for years and now need to find it again. I agree with you regarding the 1970’s movie and its place in history. I cannot imagine a new version.

Second Ave. Sagas | Blogging the NYC Subways » Blog Archive » Second Ave. Sagas goes to the movies December 27, 2007 - 3:11 am

[…] Museum. The movie was remade poorly in 1998, but Tony Scott is looking to rectify that misstep with a new remake starring Denzel Washington as Walter Mathau and John Travolta as Robert Shaw. It’s set to […]

Frank Raniere February 1, 2008 - 11:17 am

Foolhardy! Leave the original stand alone. Denzel Washington will not fit the part that Walter Mathau played, it’s a mis-casting. There, re-making this movie is already beginning on the wrong foot. Leave it be. The real movie has a great cast and even though it has sort a made for tv flavor, it makes a good point and is done well. This would be akin to trying to re-do The Incident, another subway movie from the 60’s about prejudice which should alwso be left alone. That movie could never be re-made anyway because it is totally politically incorrect.

Second Ave. Sagas | Blogging the NYC Subways » Blog Archive » The remaking of Pelham One Two Three hits the tunnels February 12, 2008 - 1:12 pm

[…] the AMNY Subway Tracker blog comes news that film crews for the upcoming Tony Scott remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three are scouting for locations. The crews, according to transit […]

Second Ave. Sagas | Blogging the NYC Subways » Blog Archive » The Photographing of Pelham 1-2-3 April 29, 2008 - 3:47 pm

[…] Scott is remaking the film with Denzel Washington, John Travolta and James Gandolfini. I’m not so optimistic that this remake will have the charmed and humor of the original, but, hey, we’ve got […]

Charlie June 20, 2008 - 4:44 am

Joe from ROXIE Sound Studios in LIC has a part and a couple songs on this !!

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » The Taking of Photographs of Pelham 1-2-3 and bridge-crossing trains July 3, 2008 - 11:44 am

[…] and off over the last few months, I’ve posted about the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. Today, we have some pictures. An intrepid Subchatter with insider access to some of the subway […]

herenthere July 3, 2008 - 8:46 pm

You’re absolutely right, Scott’s team should take on some railfans as advisors since I hate whenever movies depict the NYCS wrongly. In Hellboy, for instance, what station had signage that looked like theirs’ or a glass-encased concourse? Guess its mostly because they needed some glass to break like in all action movies.

spring65 June 16, 2009 - 4:25 pm

the cinematography was better in the 1974 version
travolta was terrific, washington wasn’t connected, couldn’t believe that was him, not one of his best performances
the producer/directors made fools out of the NYPD in traffic jams, no such thing, unbelievable all those crashes, this wasn’t a fictional tom cruise movie, didn’t need all that extra photography plus they made NYDP out as terrible car drivers, poor part of the show.
all in all travolta made the show, all else were secondary. and washington’s boss’ part was an idiot.


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